There are times when the events of a week so grab me that I cannot shake them out of my head. The confluence of disparate events and people in a short space of time and which all call upon me to respond in a biblical manner, serve to demonstrate that if God is not in the events and the manner in which they must be responded to then someone is surely going to get hurt. The pastorate is a fascinating combination of joy and sorrow, drudgery and excitement, exhilaration and disappointment. Sometimes they all occur in a very short space of time. There are always lessons to learn and biblical principles to observe right before your eyes. I hope what I am about to say is at least a little help to you in some small way. It’s had me thinking for the few weeks since I observed them happening.
Sunday, May 12 – Pastor Bell baptized three people into the membership of the church. To hear him ask each candidate three questions and hear them answer in the affirmative was exhilarating. “Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner and deserving of God’s justice and condemnation?” “Have you repented of your sins?” “Are you now trusting Jesus Christ alone to save you from your sins?” He baptized a converted Muslim and his wife who had been a nominal Christian, and their sister-in-law. It was marvellous. The church applauded after each baptism, the singing was roof lifting. We prayed for the sick. We heard the testimony of a lady who came to Canada in 2000 because of the murder of her son in her home country. The Word of God was preached – Jesus saying to the mourning women as he went to calvary that they should not weep for Him but themselves and their children.
Jesus saves sinners. The preaching of the Gospel bears fruit. When asked to give their testimonies the husband and wife both replied that the preaching of the Bible in an understandable manner is what kept them coming to church. The reason we have II Timothy 4:1-2 is this.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Monday, May 13 – I am in a line up at a store behind a man who is asking for a break on the price of what he wants to purchase. She must say “no” and does. He leaves and comes back a few minutes later with the money. Did he panhandle it? I know this man. I encountered him once in the mall where I go to try to engage people in conversation regarding spiritual things and the Gospel. As we got talking he asked me how many languages I spoke. “One”, I replied. He laughed and walked away as he told me that he speaks six. He considers me not worthy of his time. But today he is just an English speaking panhandler. After he leaves the store a young man, maybe 19 or 20 years old comes in speaking incoherently to the cashier. She manages to decipher what he is saying and answers him and he leaves. Was he too, looking for a break on something? When I leave the store he is sitting up against the building with his head between his knees. I see him later in a nearby mall eating in a food court. Did he panhandle the money for that?
Life is very hard in our part of the city, as it is in a great many places. This man came to Canada with dreams and aspirations. He came from hardship and hopes that the worst was behind him. Maybe it is. Maybe it is easier to beg change on the street corners of Toronto than in the city from which he fled. But was that the purpose of his immigration, to find an easier place to beg? Matthew 9:35-36 rings in my ears.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Tuesday, May 14 – Assessment of Sunday, discussion of the health of the church, and personal issues and concerns, with Pastor Bell, followed by a time of prayer together. We do this every Tuesday. This is one of the highlights of the week for both of us. Honest, open, friendly, even when we disagree. It is easy to talk when you know you are loved and supported. I hope he knows he is as much as I feel I am by him. And then we pray.
What a joy real friendship is. I know Pastor Bell better than anyone else in the church. We can criticize each other and confess sins to each other and pray for each other. There is no better way to start the work week than with this meeting. Romans 15:5-7 is the lesson here.
5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
I visit one of our ladies who is being called upon to care for her grandchildren as her son and his wife fight over their custody. She is tired and concerned but tells me that she has seen God deal with all kinds of problems in her life. She has another daughter who was for years nothing but trouble. She was converted a few years ago and she just knows that God will work in her son’s life now. She confesses that if her life was trouble free she would have abandoned Christ because of the easiness of life.
Life is hard and it is through many tribulations that we enter the kingdom. We get to a certain age and we think that it is now time to rest. But life still happens and we are pilgrims until we finish the course. And God is faithful in it all. She is a testimony of II Timothy 4:6-8.
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
After I get back to the church the door bell rings and it is one of our regular grocery voucher recipients looking for help. He got a voucher last week but says he lost it. We cannot replace it because we have been burned too much already by false claims of lost vouchers. Then he tells me that at his doctor’s visit last week he was told that he has a liver disease which they are having trouble treating because of his enormous size. And he is of enormous size. He travels around in a little scooter because he is too big to walk very far and his legs would not support the strain. I see this as an opportunity to go spiritual. “I am genuinely concerned about your health and I am truly sorry we cannot help you with another voucher today. But you have a soul and you need to be concerned about your spiritual health.” He is offended. He starts to get angry that I would question his status with God. “I pray and I read my Bible”. So I ask him, “If you were to die today what would you say to God if He asked you why you should be allowed to enter into glory with him?” He softens. “That’s a good question” he replies with a smile. So I push further. I tell him about those in Matthew 7 who claimed the right to enter because of the preaching, miracles and exorcising they did and that Jesus told them that He never knew them. Then I ask him if God demands sinless perfection as the requirement for heaven. He knows this might be a trick question and does not answer. So I tell him. “He does require sinless perfection and I am not that and neither are you. Only Jesus is and He lived a sinless life and took the punishment for me. Now God credits me with His righteousness and Jesus was counted as if I was Him. He was punished for my sin. This is crucially important”, I tell him. He is considering it. Our time concludes with me telling him that we love him and will pray that God heal his liver and meet his material needs and that He will come to be able to answer the questions I put to him about his soul. “I know you love me” he replies and extends his hand to me to shake and we say good-bye.
I think of Jesus who on one day fed five thousand plus people and then the next day refused to feed them again. But He did something better. He gave them the Gospel. I am not like Jesus in very much, I fear, but God enabled me to turn a situation where I turned a man down for more help into one in which I was able to give him better than he was seeking. If the Lord spares us both, we will see each other again – frequently. And material help and spiritual help will both continue to be given. And we will trust God for good fruit to come of it. Galatians 6:9
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
A couple of hours later another man comes to the church. I have told him before that we cannot help him anymore because of what he does with his money that our vouchers free him up to use. But he remembers none of that. He fried his brain years ago on various drugs. He tells me he is going to the casino in Niagara Falls this weekend and could I give him some help. “I cannot help you gamble away your money” I reply. “Oh no” he says “It would not be for food. I hope to meet some girls”. “Well”, I say as calmly as I can, “we will not help fund your expenses for that either”. He seems surprised. I have tried to give him the Gospel before. I think he is unable to process much of anything. He tells me that he quit smoking and drugs. This, I suppose, is meant to convince me that since those two gargantuan sins have been dealt with that there is nothing getting in the way of me helping him now. I tell him that if he would quit gambling he wouldn’t need to ask us for help. He is not convinced. He leaves without getting anything from me. I have a sneaking suspicion that the people in our church who give money to me to help the needy, would not find the it being used for a prostitute a legitimate use of the funds.
Luke 13:34 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
The last visit of the day is a lady who wants to give me the latest information regarding the legal battle she is in. It is almost over and while she is not completely happy with the outcome she is willing to settle. We pray for the salvation of her opponent in the case. That is the last meeting of the day.
This is a simple matter of Galatians 6:2.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
On my walk home, the man from the store yesterday, who speaks six languages, is rummaging through a trash can. He comes away from it with nothing.
The poor we will always have with us. God, in His good providence has placed my church and me in this community with all its troubles and troublesome people and insurmountable problems, to shine as lights. Jesus wept over His city. Whatever we will accomplish in ours will start at the place of weeping and go from there to the place of doing something, even if it is as small a matter as dropping a loonie in the outstretched hand of a beggar, or as great as delivering the greatest news that has ever been around to be delivered.
A confluence of disparate and yet connected events that the Scriptures address as only they can. A call upon Christians to minister to different people in different situations with different words and Scriptural truths. What a world. What a community. What a calling.
II Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
May your eyes be open to the opportunities that God places before you.